Image by Ian Allenden

Tractors, Cows, and the Internet of Things


As words go, it’s a pretty basic and ordinary one. About as basic and ordinary as, would you say, farming? I don’t know about you, but for city-boy-me when I think of farming I think down to earth. I think tractors. I think cows.

There is nothing basic and ordinary about things once they find the internet, though. The lawyers tell us that, where the internet is concerned, “Things” are any physical entity capable of connectivity that directly interfaces the physical world, such as embedded devices, sensors, and actuators.

How is the Internet of Things impacting your business?

We are all aware of this stuff whether we need it or not.

Think about the FitBit. It’s everywhere now. It was designed by Israeli Gadi Amit and even he says that consumers aren’t really sure they need gadgets like that, so part of his job is to make sure that its design ensures that it becomes part of everyday life. With about 34% of the market of wearable tech and 19 million registered users, I think they are doing okay.

The IoT is Everywhere

“Things” are anything from heart monitoring implants to cars with built-in sensors to John Deere’s Mobile Farm Manager.

Seriously. John Deere created a mobile tool for farm management. I’ve seen it. It’s pretty cool. It reminded me: I don’t know a thing about farming.

Good thing I know something about technology. Good thing I know that technology changes the way people do business. All kinds of business. Even farming.

John Deere developed the Mobile Farm Manager so farmers can look at maps and reports from any year and analyze them, track their position in their field, document what they are scouting, generate grid zones, and perform soil sampling tasks.

FitBit had to create a market, John Deere’s is, shall we say, a little more organic.

Of course, once farmers are uploading data into that tool, all of that information has to be stored somewhere. And next year the farmers have to have useful access to that information that can help make their farm successful – just like any other business.

As John Deere says on their own website, “[t]oday’s farming practices produce more data than ever before. To make the best management decisions, you need to be able to access that information in any place, any time.”

New Platforms for the Internet of Things

And this thing with the farms, it might be as American as apple pie, but you should also be talking about it over sushi because, sure, crops in Iowa, but what about cows in Japan? Can a cow be a platform for the Internet of Things?

Why not?

Thanks to the tech industry, I’ve learned that at its most simple, a dairy farm is a manufacturing environment. You put in cows and feed and you get out milk products. Basically. For the dairy farmers to replace or add to the production capacity, they need cows. Where do cows come from? Most dairy cattle are ‘produced’ by artificial insemination (AI), and we can get a 70% conception rate. Not too bad, but there’s a catch. That 70% is only if the AI happens when the cow is in estrus. Until now, farmer intuition has been the only way to predict estrus, which statistically is only accurate about 55% of the time. That makes the actual pregnancy rate 39%. Don’t be too hard on the farmers, though. Estrus typically lasts only 12-18 hours, usually between 10pm and 8am. It also only happens once every 21 days.

Enter Fujitsu and a lot of research.

Remember that FitBit? As luck would have it, Gertie starts doing a jig at the onset of estrus. Fujitsu equips the herd with battery powered pedometers to detect the number of steps, wirelessly transmits that information to a MS Azure database where it’s analyzed, and notifies the farmer via mobile phone app when the time is right.

Who would have thought?

Deriving Value From Data

It’s not 1982 anymore.
Remember 1982?
I do.
I remember it just like it was 33 ½ years ago.

It was the year of E.T., The Wrath of Kahn, and, maybe most appropriate to this topic, The Thing.

It was also when the concept of a network of smart devices was realized. A modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first internet-connected appliance. It was able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold. Coke was it.

It’s 2016 and, my friends, we have entered a whole new era in which data from operational systems has the potential to inform decisions within an enterprise and its entire ecosystem. The challenge is IoT comes with a lot of data, a whole lot of data, and most organizations are not well prepared to effectively extract and manage terabytes of data and derive business value from the flood of information from all of the devices and systems on the network.

Organizations must explore alternatives to the time consuming, complex, and expensive ways of enabling that intelligence because someone somewhere has to store and manage all of that data.

How is the IoT impacting your business?
How can Avista work with you to design the best possible solution for right now and a strategy for the future?
It’s summer. The perfect time to pour ourselves a nice cold Coca-Cola and taste the feeling of this whole new world.
I look forward to hearing from you.